“I swear, this thing gave my hair blue highlights. Look, see…” Justine said as she began to rocked the plastic fidget toy against her palm. It was roughly spherical, but it had keys from a mechanical keyboard that gave it faces like a die. She rolled it around, feeling the keys depress against her fingers and palm. Only one of them clicked, and that was the one that made things happen—or it had been. When she clicked it this time, nothing notable happened and, looking up at her two friends, they seemed unchanged.
Lakshmi, Lala to her friends, was still an incredible amount of curve and cheer crammed into five feet of Kashmiri-American woman. Her near-flawless complexion was that shade of brown most white women spend hundreds trying to achieve—although she worked hard to look that good. Keeping hip-length hair perpetually perfect that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of her daily, almost obsessive care routine. She spent hours a week on her skin. There was always charcoal soap near every sink in the flat. She took a bottle of coconut oil with her everywhere like she was some android worried about seizing up. Then there was the shampoo her Nani sent over from India by the case which was a blend of like nine flowers and two oils.
Kimmi, with her piercing blue eyes, still looked like she belonged on the front of a magazine titled ‘Valkyrie Science Monthly’ or something. In contrast to Lala, Kimmi was less obsessive when it came to her looks. She kept her golden blonde hair short and spent most of her time at the gym biking while listening to podcasts. Then again, when one had been built like a Shieldmaiden since they were sixteen, it was easy to stay in shape.
It was not like Justine was unattractive, she was just the right amount of top-heavy and her gothic aesthetic was stronger than ever, but sometimes shitty people made it hard for her to remember that. It was at its worst when the three of them were out together. The campus night-life was very diverse, but it usually meant she would get utterly ignored in favor of her 'exotic' friends (barf).
Lala spoke first. “Here’s an easier way to prove it,” she said in her melodic accent. “If you magically got electric blue highlights, then there should be no trace in the shower or the sink.”
“She was with me until we came home at ten last night,” Kimmi added. “So it was not like she went to the salon to get them done.”
Justine went to a dance class with Kimmi a couple of times a week. It was just about the only place Justine could stand out next to her friend's imposing physique. Belly dancing, specifically, had become something of an obsession after learning the basics from Lala. There was something... intoxicating about being able to move her body like that. Having so much control over how she moved was a rush when she considered how little control she had over anything else.
The three of them trooped to the bathroom to look for evidence that she had dyed her hair. Meanwhile, her thumb continued to press the clicking key as her index and middle held two others down. Without warning, there was a click which was louder than should have been possible and the flat morphed around them. In a haze of streaks like oil filtering through water it became the townhouse across town they had looked at renting. With that positive result, she shifted her fingers to another combination and clicked the button once more, this time wondering if she could make herself just a little bit taller. Click. Her stride lengthening all of a sudden threw her off sense balance and she dropped the cube while windmilling to grab hold of the wall. Once she was steady, Justine felt a surge of achievement. Her eye level had adjusted to the height she expected while wearing three-inch heels. She heard the switch click again, someone must have stepped on it.
“You okay?” Kimmi asked, putting a warm hand on her shoulder. The would-be Valkyrie's hair was now bright pink and her eyes had become an impossible shade teal instead of blue. Neither she nor Lala seemed to notice, however.
“Yeah,” Justine gasped. “Never better.”
This was the first time she had continued to notice the differences for more than a few seconds. Every time something had changed in the last week, she knew what had changed but could not tell herself how afterward. She was just more aware of it now for some reason. How much of who she was had already been rewritten in the last few days? Although, to be honest, what did it matter? That version of her was gone since this was only the second time she had been fully aware of the changes. She realized with a start that the weird déjà vu like feelings she had been noticing these past few weeks was her mind fighting the cube's effect on her perception of reality. She shivered at that knowledge as she stooped to pick the toy up off the floor. She rocked it in her hands, still wondering how much had changed. She happened to hit the clicking one against the base of her thumb and a sharp, stabbing pain lanced through her head. The room spun around her as all of the things she had changed came rushing back to her.
Memories of what happened with Bobby that made her feel uncomfortable in her skin.
Memories of not having friends that brought with it a crippling sense of depression she had all but forgotten.
Memories upon memories upon memories heaped on top of her. It was too much! Make it stop! Her knees went weak, she was going to be sick.
In the bathroom, just on the other side of the wall, her friends—women she had only known for a few days despite also remembering that they had been roommates for years—were playing at being Holmes and Watson while complementing Justine on her perfect crime. Agitation surging, her grip on the cube tightened until she actually felt every key lock into place. A jolt rushed up from her clenched fist to her neck. She felt light-headed and then was able to deal with the conflicting realities. She could see them as separate, could dip her awareness into the stream of any version of reality in particular and everything around her shifted to match. She could move between her single dorm, Bobby's lavish loft, the apartment she shared with just her childhood friend Kimmi, this townhome with her two besties, with more and more laid out before her!
When she relaxed, all of that fell away again and she returned to the version of reality where her first time was with Lala and not her abusive ex. The reality where she and Kimmi had made out in high school and would casually shower together after workouts. The reality where she felt happy and cared for and wanted. That said, it was like, now that she sort of understood the power contained within her fidget cube, it was bonding with her. Even with most of her memories tied to this timeline, she was aware how things differed from where she would have been. If that was the case, if she had more control over what happened now, how much could she change? Could this power do more than little things at a time?
There was only one way to find out.
Her face broke into a grin as she spun the die. What did she want to change? What about her past? The thought made her hand move on instinct as she pushed two of the soft buttons and then mashed the clicking key to her palm. Justine felt her body gain a subtle amount of muscle—particularly in her legs. A lifetime as a skater and dancer shoved her shitty childhood and its deferred dreams aside. She still remembered every second of it, every moment still made her throat catch, but it was like she had read about some girl like her that had been abused. Some things remained, scars that were too deep and wounds that were too fresh, but, for the first time in her life, it felt like she was more a person and not a mass of scarred soul.
That was not to say her new life was not fraught with its own disappointments. Tearing her ankle at twelve etched a scar into her left leg from a surgery which kept her out of a whole season. It ended her potential career in ballet, but it did not deter her from continuing to compete on the ice. Then there was the time where her music stopped during a routine in high school and she ended up tripping over herself in panic and spraining her shoulder and wrist when she fell to the ice. Not to mention all those times she put out more than a hundred percent on the floor and was still short of gold.
All of it hit her in a rush that knocked the breath out of her. Eyes wide, she looked down at the glowing cube. Bright energy arced between fingers and elbow for a moment before fading away.
What had she been doing? Oh, right, trying to show Kimmi and Lala this toy could alter reality.